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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, '09, 6:44 am
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Part Fifteen- How to Stop an Exploding Dragon

(Somewhere over Palma)

The massive cone of fire drew closer to the party, as Keethrax hovered in smug satisfaction, knowing that his masters would be safe. Simply incinerate that foolish Musk Cat, he thought, and the men shall fall and die.

"M-Barrier!"

As Myau shouted the final words of his spell, a barrier of prismatic hexagons formed between him and the fireball, then wrapped around him. The prisms disappeared from sight, briefly becoming visible again when the jet of flame reached the party. For the most part, the Palmans on Myau's back were lucky- Nekishe had managed to dive and avoid most of the effects, while Tairon held his mirrored shield in defiance. Lutz, however, had taken the full brunt of the blast and sank to his knees, his mantle and skin badly burned.

"Whoa! Lutz, hang on a second!" Nekishe called as he rose to his feet. He took a small crystal out of his pocket, then pointed it at Lutz. "I hope that salesman was right. Just concentrate on the magic..."

"Do... arrrgh! Do your... best, Nekishe," Lutz groaned.

Nekishe's eyes closed, and a single word reverberated over and over in his head: Whispered over and over, written in sea-green letters that hovered out of reach before dissipating like smoke. A faint teal light from within the crystal suddenly started to radiate with more and more intensity. When Nekishe opened his eyes, the same teal light seemed to emanate from them.

"Heal!"

It wasn't much, Nekishe realized, but it was something- some of the worse burns on Lutz's body started healing rapidly, leaving reddened skin beneath. As Lutz recovered, the crystal's light flared, dimmed noticeably, subsiding for a brief instant, then returned to its former faint light.

"Do Heal!" Lutz called, sending the same teal light through Myau, Tairon, and Nekishe. Once they had been healed, he continued, "Be careful with your dorje, Nekishe. The magical essences contained in dorjes sometimes causes them to break up."

"You know, the salesman didn't quite tell me that," Nekishe said as Tairon lined up a shot with his laser rifle. He cranked off a shot, watching as the blue bolt burned through some of the gold dragon's scales.

"YOU DARE RAISE SWORD AND SPELL AGAINST KEETHRAX THE VIGILANT?" the dragon roared. "YOU SHALL PERISH, FOOLISH ONES. THE WOMAN WHO SCORED THAT LUCKY HIT ON MY WING IS NO LONGER WITH YOU."

Nekishe gritted his teeth in anger as he activated his energy saber. "We'll get her back!" he shouted at the dragon.

"YOU SEEK TO KIDNAP THE LADY QUEEN OF ALGO? VERY FOOLISH INDEED." Keethrax chuckled- or as close as a dragon could- then soared closer to Myau. "KING REIPARD AND QUEEN ALISA HAVE GIVEN ME FREE REIGN TO DESTROY THOSE WHO STAND IN OPPOSITION TO THEM. AND YOU, MUSK CAT, ARE TRYING MY PATIENCE."

With a feral roar, Keethrax's claws swung at Myau, tearing great gashes in his chest and forelegs. He groaned in pain, and shuddered for a moment, threatening to send his passengers falling to their deaths. Unfortunately for the dragon, the Palmans managed to hold fast.

"All right!" Myau called to his passengers. "You know what gold dragons are weak against, right?"

Lutz and Nekishe looked at each other, then nodded, as Tairon looked confused. "Cold," the two told Myau; Lutz raised the Psycho Wand as Nekishe fished a new dorje out of his pocket.

"Right! Lutz, let's make it a very cold Six-month! Gi Brose!"

Almost immediately, Lutz shouted, "Gi Hewn!" The wind blast soared through Myau's cold burst, wrapping around it and forming a massive sphere of ice and snow. Both spells fused into one, and Myau and Lutz spoke in unison:

"Collabo Magic- BLIZZARD!"

The cold orb exploded in a torrent of freezing wind and razor-sharp ice shards, buffeting the dragon with all the fury of a Dezolian winter. Ice crystals tore at Keethrax's injuries, ripping scales free and flash-freezing his exposed flesh. Roaring in pain, Keethrax glared at the Esper and the Musk Cat, intoning, "YOU SHALL DIE FOR THAT, AND I, KEETHRAX, SHALL FEAST UPON THINE INNARDS!"

"I don't think so!" Nekishe challenged as he raised his crystal. "Brose!"

A bolt of freezing cold shot forth from the crystal and struck Keethrax in his wing- the same wing Alisa had injured weeks ago during their last encounter. Feeling the still-healing flesh freshly torn into, the great dragon again roared and bellowed as pain coursed through him. Tairon's second shot with his laser rifle didn't help the dragon's suffering as it burned through more scales.

"Hey, Myau!" Tairon shouted as Keethrax breathed another cone of flame. The Musk Cat barely managed to dodge around it, and when the heat of the attack had vanished, Tairon continued, "Think you can break off more of those scales? I can't really get a good shot."

"Not a problem!" Myau replied, beginning to cast another spell. "Get ready, guys! Gi Brose!"

"Na Heal!" Lutz added, channeling his radiant energy into the Brose spell's. The healing energy combined into and compressed the cold energy, quickly forming a black bolt of energy.

"Collabo Magic... LUSTER BANISH!"

The black bolt, truly aimed by its two creators, slammed dead-on into Keethrax's back, ripping enough scales off of the dragon for an armorer to make a fine suit of mail, as evidenced by Keethrax's pained, angered roar. Immediately, Nekishe and Tairon knew what to do, and bravely ran down Myau's back.

"Tairon! Nekishe!" Lutz called out. "Wait a minute! Keethrax is-"

Lutz never got to finish his sentence, as a buffet of wind knocked him on his back, fueled by Keethrax frantically flapping his wings. "SUFFER, WORMS!" he called, watching Tairon and Nekishe stagger to their feet, still on Myau's back. "YOU SHALL FALL HERE, AND MY KING AND QUEEN SHALL BE PLEASED!"

"I. Don't. ####ing. Think. So."

Myau's wings swept back, and he buzzed close to Keethrax, allowing Tairon and Nekishe to leap onto the dragon's exposed back. Nekishe readied the energy blade as Tairon strapped his laser rifle to his back, going for his Laconia axe instead. Once they were away, Myau clawed at Keethrax's wounded wing, then twisted in midair, hovering dangerously close to the dragon.

Lutz, now facing Keethrax's wing, pointed the Psycho Wand at the massive wound spanning its entire breadth. "Gi Hewn!" he shouted, sending a blast of wind into the scar, watching it tear open. Keethrax roared in pain, then turned to glare at the blue-haired Palman.

"YOU DIE FOR THIS OUTRAGE!" he screamed. "I SHALL FETCH YOU OUT OF THE AIR AFTER I FLAY OPEN THE MUSK CAT, WIZARD, AND THEN... YOU SHALL TRULY SUFFER."

"Yeah. Like that's gonna happen!" Myau taunted. "Get 'im, boys~!"

Nekishe and Tairon swung wildly at Keethrax's exposed back, tearing through flesh and bone in record speed, ignoring the dragon's pained roars. Once they felt enough damage was done, Nekishe ran down Keethrax's back and leapt towards Myau, landing and rolling onto his back. Tairon remained by his handiwork for a few more moments, bringing down his axe with a splash of blood and gore with every swing.

Finally, he reached the dragon's heart. Screaming like a maniac, Tairon cleaved it in half with the axe, nearly deaf with the dragon's agony.

Oh, crap. Dragon dying, he suddenly realized. Gotta bounce!

"Smell ya later, Keethrax!" Tairon shouted as he ran towards Myau. "Send us a postcard from the Burger Knight! Let us know if they're using enough ketchup on the burgers!"

Keethrax opened his maws to respond to Tairon, but all that he could force out before dipping into a final nosedive was a pathetic death rattle. Tairon leapt off of the now dying dragon, realizing all too late that the nosedive had thrown his jump off. "Oh, craaaaaaaaaaaaap!" he shouted, seeing that his jump was far too short. His stomach hung for a second, then gravity asserted itself upon him.

Myau moved into action, diving towards the falling giant, catching him on his back. Together, the four watched as Keethrax tumbled to the ground, his body exploding in a cloud of gore, sulfur, and dust upon impact with Palma's surface. There was an uncomfortable silence before Tairon turned to the group.

"So..." he started. "How many steaks do you guys think we could get off of him?"

-=-=-

"Sis, seriously, give it up. I think she's dead."

Pushing a wisp of pink hair out of her eyes, Rainy looked at her older sister. The two kneeled over Katya's body, an electronic toolkit spread out to her side. "Janey, I know what I'm doing. I think," Rainy told her. "I've got some of her programming up. See?"

Janey looked over at Rainy's debugger, raising an eyebrow at the endless lines of numbers and letters on the screen. "If that's what you want to call it," she replied, sweatdropping. "I don't know what any of this crap means."

"It's simple! 02 FD 8F A2 B7 is energy devotion to emulating a Flaeli spell..." Rainy tapped a command into the debugger's keyboard, scrolling the letters and numbers down a few screens. "00 F3 91 27 E3 is a basic behavior inhibitor... hang on..."

Click-click-click. Rainy typed quick series of commands into the debugger, altering coding as she typed, watching Katya for any sign of activity. After a few minutes, Rainy gasped in horror. "Sis! This woman... she... oh, my God. Janey. Look at this."

"What?" Janey asked, reading the screen. "It's not more of those numbers, is it? ...What? Oh, God... LaShiec's stooped this far?"

Displayed on the screen were the words "CYBORG CONVERSION NANOMACHINE MASTER CONTROL PROGRAM v3.75e. SUBJECT: MERCHOVA, KATYA A. SIN M4912-68192-567133. Nanomachine injection and cyborg conversion: Eighteenth of Six-month, AW 342. Janey, this was four days ago! She... she just turned seventeen!"

"And LaShiec forced her into... this?" Janey asked, shocked by what she saw. "He turned her into one of his robots?"

"Worse. He grabbed some woman off the street at random, took her to some hellish laboratory," Rainy started, guessing at what happened, "And stick! His scientists pumped her full of microts- they probably erased her mind and laid down this code. Fortunately..." She cracked her knuckles. "I think I can reprogram her- at least, make her not want to kill us."

"Rainy, I still think she's a stiff," Janey told her.

"Ssssh. Thinking up coding. Let's see..." Again, Rainy started typing into her debugger, pausing every few minutes to double-check a string of numbers. Finally, after a few minutes, she closed the debugger. She stood up, then said, "Katya should be awake in a minute or so. I, uh..." Grabbing the back of her head, she sweatdropped. "I made a few changes to her code. ^_^;"

"Like what?" Janey asked, suddenly very suspicious of her sister.

"You'll see. Hey, Cutruss!" Her voice rang out through the abandoned warehouse. "Can you help me out here for a minute?"

"If it's about the garbage, I'm not touching it!"

"Oh, just c'mere!"

Footsteps echoed, and before long, Cutruss emerged from behind a stack of boxes. "What's up, sis?" he asked. "Wait... it's not another machine test, is this?"

"Well..." Rainy said innocently. Before she could continue her sentence, the red-haired cyborg sat upright, then stood up, her gaze fixing on Cutruss.

"Whoa, wait a minute," he replied, backing into the boxes. "She tried to kill us..."

Katya took another step, reaching for Cutruss, as Janey continued, "Will you relax? Rainy just reprogrammed her. You're gonna be fine."

"Whaddya mean, 'fine?' She killed you, remember?!" Cutruss demanded, now realizing that Katya was almost upon him. "Rainy, get her away from me!"

"Naaaaah."

Hands clamped on his shoulders, Katya pulled Cutruss closer towards her. Closing her eyes, one hand moved to the back of Cutruss's head. He screamed-

Murmurred in delight as he felt his lips being pushed against Katya's, his fear replaced by relief. As for Katya, she simply followed what her programming told her- in this case, "D0 17 44 13: kiss Cutruss Rie." Rainy popped the debugger open again, then said to Janey, "It's all right. I added some commands in here to help Mister Lutz and the others, now... uh-oh." She sweatdropped.

"What? What's wrong now, Rainy?" Janey asked, trying to tune out the sounds Cutruss and Katya were making.

"Umm, Katya's stuck in a bit of a programming loop right now..."

Horrified, Janey stole a glance over her shoulder. Cutruss's hands were firmly on Katya's bottom, and the two were starting to grind against each other. "You mean, she's just gonna kiss our brother until she dies?" she asked, turning her attention back to her sister.

"Naaah. Just have to find the proper place to break the loop... there we go. ....Uh-oh."

Katya pulled away from Cutruss, smiling sweetly at him- the first emotions she had shown since Doctor Mad had converted her. There was a quickly-growing whining coming from her feet as he stared at her in delight.

"Bro, MOVE!" Janey shouted, divetackling her brother just as twin rockets shot from the soles of Katya's feet. She burst clean through the ceiling of the warehouse, then leaned in one direction before disappearing.

"Rainy, what the hell did you do!?" Cutruss shouted. "I could feel her tongue!"

"I, uh... I think I activated her recall code," Rainy said. Seeing Cutruss and Janey's shocked expressions, she quickly added, "Don't worry! I told you, I put code in to make her help Mister Lutz! ...I think."

"You 'think'!?"

"Hey, 0F and 0E look so much alike, you guys..."

-=-=-

Fortunately for Tairon and the others, the rest of the flight to the Castle in the Sky was uneventful- it seemed the only real line of defense the castle had past invisibility was Keethrax, and he was now very dead. Once Myau landed on the edge of what Alisa called "The City of the Dead," the others climbed off his back as he reverted back to his normal Musk Cat form.

"Whew! Hope we don't have to do that again!" he said as he stretched a bit. "C'mon, let's haul * and get LaShiec!"

"Yeah- this ends today!" Tairon replied, getting his laser rifle ready. The four dashed through the abandoned city and into the castle, passing through its corridors with ease, having cleared it out with their last visit. As they got to the third floor of the castle, there was a terrifying sight by the ascending staircase.

"Urrrgghh... Tai... Tairon..." a zombie muttered, inching towards the group. Pieces of his clothing and skin were starting to peel off as he approached.

"Holy crap..." Tairon said, lowering his rifle. "Nero!? My God, what did LaShiec do to you?!"

"Urrrr...."

"Necromantic magic," Lutz realized, after looking at Nero's zombified body. "One of the many zombies LaShiec has created."

"I don't think this is LaShiec's doing," Nekishe told the Esper. "He didn't know Nero Landale."

"'Landale?' Then... this zombie is-"

"Alisa's brother, Nero." Tairon raised his laser rifle. "I really don't want to do this to him- but I can't stand seeing him like this."

"I understand, Tairon," Lutz said. "Nekishe, do you have a Heal dorje on you?"

"Heal... let me see..." He looked through his pockets quickly, then produced a crystal- unlike the Heal-containing crystal, this one radiated a faint pink light. "I've got Cure. Will this work?"

"It should, if Lutz is thinking of what I'm thinking," Myau said.

"It should. Myau, get ready... Na Heal!"

Healing energy radiated through Nero, silently burning away at him. There was no pain, despite Na Heal's damaging effects- indeed, Lutz felt as if a burden were being lifted from the young man's spirit.

"Do Heal!"

More radiant blue energy burst from Myau's body, filling a small area of the corridor. Nero groaned and averted his eyes from Myau.

Now it was Nekishe's turn to finish the task. Raising the glowing pink dorje skyward, he shouted, "Cure!"

The crystal's pink energy flared, surged forth, and flowed through Nero. As it did, two things happened: Nero's body evaporated into dust, while the crystal shattered, its magical energy too much to contain. The four warriors heard Nero's voice whisper, "Thank you..." before the dust blew away, as if by an unseen hand.

"I don't understand," Nekishe said as he looked at the dust that was once Nero Landale. "Alisa loved her brother. Why did she let LaShiec just turn him into an undead like that?"

"As I said before, I doubt this was LaShiec's doing," Lutz replied. "I've had my fears for the past few days now- I think Alisa created Nero's zombie herself."

"Why, though?" Tairon asked.

"Remember what LaShiec said to Alisa? If she became his queen, she'd get to see Nero again."

"It couldn't have been that, Lutz." Nekishe crossed his arms. "Alisa was brainwashed."

"That's what I thought at first, but I felt dark energy building up, culminating in a blast I felt at Camineet Spaceport." Lutz shook his head. "I don't think it's brainwashing anymore."

"Well, whatever it is," Myau said, "We'll deal with it when we waste LaShiec! C'mon- Alisa needs us!"

The four continued through LaShiec's castle, a somber thought suddenly entering Nekishe's mind: The sickening realization that he might have to kill Alisa. He had a sudden desire for more combat- something, anything to take his mind off this thought.

-=-=-

An hour passed, as Myau announced, "This is it. Fifth floor. We're going down from here, Nekishe. LaShiec's throne room is four floors below us. You ready?"

"I... I hope so." He brought his energy sword to life as the group began its descent. As they wound through the corridors, they heard a massive thud from behind them.

"What was that?!" Myau asked, suddenly nervous. "Nobody else is following us besides you, right, Nekishe?"

"No- it was just me."

"Odd..." The group started again, stopping not ten feet later as another thud echoed through the corridors.

"That's not another dragon, is it?" Tairon asked. "We pretty much cleared everything out last time we were here."

"You're sure about that?" Nekishe wondered, not hiding his nervousness. "I don't think I can take another dragon."

"Positive..." Was the giant man's reply, as there was a third thud. He motioned for the group to move onwards- quickly, which they did. Once they rounded another corner, there was another thud- louder this time. Closer.

"All right, what the hell is that, anyway?" Myau demanded. "A mecha?"

"Myau, be careful," Lutz told him as the Musk Cat rounded the next corner.

"Chillax, Lutz! Careful is my middle- Holy Mary Mother of God, what the Christ is that!?"

The three Palmans heard a twisted, bizarre laugh, one that ran chills down Tairon and Lutz's spines. They heard it before, all too well.

"Ah hahahahaaaaa~! Mad strikes back! Return of Doctor!"

Before Myau was a twelve-foot tall suit of what appeared to be powered armor, piloted by Doctor Mad. One arm was outfitted with a claw-like apparatus as well as a small tube, and the other arm was replaced by a large cannon from the elbow down. With each step the machine took, the very castle shook. Myau noted, to his extreme dissatisfaction, that the powered armor was indeed that- heavily armored.

"Hey, it's Queenie's old friends Tyler and Walsh! And some other guy! I guess he's here to join in the fun!?" Doctor Mad called out to them.

"Guys, who's this court jester reject?" Nekishe asked.

"That's Doctor Wilhelm von Mad," Tairon replied. "He thinks he's one of Algo's best scientists, but he's got a rep for doing some really bad things."

"That's what they said!" Mad shouted back. "Oh, if only they saw my super sexy combat cyborg girl, Katya!"

"Cyborg... that red-haired woman!" Lutz realized. "She was your doing?"

"Of quartz! I just injected her with some microts to make her fight, and she did well! Then SOMEONE whose name I won't announce here sent four thousand volts through her! Oh, well!" He shrugged, and the powered armor's arms mimicked the gesture. "She was a nice little first aid-slash-science project, but I've moved on from Katya! Now I have... this! Behold Project: Frag Algo!"

The four looked at the armored scientist dubiously, as Mad explained, "I'm perfectly safe inside this armor, and I can blow stuff up just as good as any POLEZI can! Even made a bunch of chemicals that emulate your so-called 'magic!' No need for that crap when you've got SCIENCE! Taste my FoiChem, and despairrrrrr! Hahaaaa!"

With the push of a button in the cabin, the power armor sprayed a red chemical all over the group, which ignited as soon as it came in contact with them. Laughing hysterically, Doctor Mad continued, "Fun stuff, innit!? Goes from zero to eighteen-thirty Fahrenheit on contact with Palman hair, Musk Cat or Motavian fur, Dezolian scales- they love that, by the way!- or android synthetic skin! Haaaaave a nice day!"

The fire quickly subsided, the chemical fuel exhausted. Immediately, Myau's fur bristled as he called, "Barrier!" The familiar field of diamond prisms surrounded Lutz, then quickly vanished. Nekishe raised a Heal dorje overhead, turning towards Tairon.

"Dunno how well this'll work, but... Heal!" The healing energy radiated into Tairon, and the crystal's light flared, dimmed, and vanished as the crystal shattered. "Damn! Lutz! I've got one Heal dorje left!" he called to the Esper.

"One's all we need, Nekishe... Gi Tandle!"

Lutz's electrical energy burst from his hand, arcing into Doctor Mad's powered armor with seemingly no effect. Even Tairon's quick shot with his laser rifle seemed to do nothing.

"Haahaaaaa~! Kingie and Queenie told me you were gonna try that, so I had this baby lined with rubber!" The doctor laughed, pushing another button on his console. "Here's how you do electricity! Suck TsuChem!"

A bright yellow liquid sprayed from the armor's chemical launcher, and as soon as it came into contact with Tairon's skin, he shouted in pain as arcs of electricity shot through the fluid. Naturally, the doctor was there to explain what was happening: "Works with your body's bioelectrical field! Voom! Electricity!"

"I'd give real Meseta if he'd shut up," Myau groaned. "Get ready for a Collabo, guys! Gi Brose!"

Ice shards formed between Myau and Doctor Mad's armor, and he watched as the ice bounced off the armor. Grinning in satisfaction, Doctor mad taunted, "Hey, that sounds like a hail storm! You know what else sounds like a hail storm?! THIS!"

The cannon on the armor's other arm revved to life, peppering the four with a multitude of high-powered microscopic bullets. Tairon recognized the weapon immediately. "Damn! Guys, that's a gauss cannon!" he called as he sighted his rifle.

"Wait, what!?" Nekishe replied. "Don't you see those on Ulysses class ships?!"

"Yes! Try not to get shot too much by it, all right?! Gauss cannons leave a mark!" Tairon shouted over the racket, firing his rifle at the gauss cannon. The blue energy bolt ricocheted off harmlessly.

"Let's try that thing you did with Keethrax, Lutz," Nekishe said, taking a few steps away from Doctor Mad's armor. Raising a glowing blue crystal, he shouted, "Brose!"

"I see... Gi Heal!"

"Collabo Magic..." The two called at the same time, Nekishe feeling as if someone else was controlling his actions. "LUSTER BANISH!"

As it had before, a black bolt of energy formed from the combined healing and freezing energy, and it impacted dead-center in Doctor Mad's armor. He grunted, obviously unnerved by the Luster Banish impact, then realized that something had actually managed to penetrate his armor's "perfect" defenses. "Bah, lucky shot!" he teased. "I think that crystal doohickey's gonna break and/or you're gonna run out of magic before you can do that enough times to hurt me!"

"We'll see, Doctor. We'll see. Gi Tandle!"

Lutz's intent was for Myau or Nekishe to follow through with a Cure spell and Collabo the two magics into Thunder Storm, but apparently Doctor Mad had caught on; a spray of blue liquid rushed from the tube, painfully freezing Lutz and Tairon as it touched their skin. As Nekishe and Myau rushed over to them, the tail end of the WatChem spray burned them with its near-arctic cold.

"C'mon, guys!" Doctor Mad responded. "Tactics are fine, but calling audibles?! That only works in football! Or that other football Motavians love so much! Or if you don't use plain English to call it! C'mon, I'm certified crazy, and even I noticed that! "

"Y'know, he raises an interesting point," Nekishe said, as he rushed towards the powered armor, swinging his energy blade. The blade was able to leave a small scorch mark on the armor's leg, but Nekishe was quickly pressed away by the armor's protective field. Tairon shot the scorch mark Nekishe left, but the effect was pretty much the same: Minimal damage, if anything.

"Good plan, Nekishe, but I think you need to be stronger to do it," Myau told him as the group came back together. "Tairon, get the axe ready- I'll get you when I can. Power!"

Nekishe's arms tensed involuntarily, and he felt every muscle in his arms tighten painfully for a brief second, then they relaxed. He noticed that the energy sword's handle was even lighter than it already was. "Thanks, Myau," he told the Musk Cat. "Think it'll be enough, though?"

Before Myau could reply, there was another loud thud, followed by several cracks. The ceiling caved in in the center of the room, as a familiar red-haired woman floated downward, guided by two rockets.

"Aw, hell no!" Myau groaned. "Not her again!"

"I thought you killed her?!" Tairon asked.

"As did I. I wondered why I didn't see her soul when I revived Janey..." Lutz scratched his chin. "That was stupid of me. Damn!"

"Ah, Katya, my beauty! ^_^" Doctor Mad exclaimed, upon seeing her. "How are you?!"

"I am fine, Doctor Mad," Katya replied. There was something about her voice that seemed different, but neither Doctor Mad nor the four warriors could discern it. "I was damaged by a Collabo Magic earlier, but I have recovered."

"I see, I see..." Leaning back in his powered armor, Doctor Mad continued, "So... now that you're here, it's time to fight! See those four? They want to kill LaShiec and his main squeeze Alisa, and we're gonna stop him!"

"They... want to kill Lord Reipard and Lady Alisa?" Katya asked. "Who are these four?"

Tairon looked confused, as did Myau, Nekishe, and Lutz. "She doesn't remember us?" Myau asked. "Wow, must have been a hell of a Thunder Storm."

"It was quite powerful," Lutz replied.

"Well, I don't know who the blonde guy is, but I'm gonna stomp him flat under my feet!" Doctor Mad told Katya. "As for the others, you know them! Queen Alisa's ex-friends! Myau, Tairon Tyler, and Noah Walsh!"

"Noah Walsh... that... sounds familiar," Katya replied, slowly approaching Lutz. The group took defensive stances, readying themselves in case Katya lashed out with her claws. "The terrorist codenamed Lutz?"

"It's more of a title, actually," Lutz replied, sweatdropping.

"You are Lutz, then. And you oppose Lord King Reipard LaShiec and Lady Queen Alisa LaShiec?"

Tairon started nodding so vigorously he swore his head would fall off. "Yes! Yes! He does! And we're helping him do it!"

"I see."

"What are you waiting for, Katya!?" Doctor Mad exclaimed, flailing his arms (and his armor's) wildly. "Rip 'em open! Turn 'em into morgue meat! Save the cat for me- I wanna experiment on him!"

"Lutz opposes Lord LaShiec," Katya told him, matter-of-factly. "My programming directs me to assist Lutz in any way I can."

"What?! WHAT!?" Both Mad and Lutz exclaimed at the same time. The mad doctor recovered first, asking, "Who the hell put that directive in your program?! That doesn't sound like anything I'd type!"

"It wasn't. My systems have been updated by Rain Rie. Doctor Mad, let me just tell you this." Her laser claws flared to life as she continued, emotion returning to her voice, "You're going to pay for what you did to me!"

"Oh, crap."

"See? That's the sprit!" Tairon cheered, firing his laser rifle at Doctor Mad's armor. Katya leapt into the air, raking her claws against the armor's torso. For her, time seemed to slow down a bit as she managed to get two swipes with each claw. Thank you, Doctor, for the Doubleslash program, she thought as she landed.

"You! I make you a beautiful hot combat cyborg, and this is how you repay me?!" Doctor Mad demanded, livid. "You let some random woman just reprogram you?! You know how long I spent on that programming?! Three hours! Three! Eat lead, Katya!"

Again, the gauss cannon fired, but this time, the doctor directed the full burst of its fire at the red-haired woman. She easily dodged the staccato burst of fire, giving Nekishe an opportunity to test his newfound strength. With a grunt, he managed to drive his laser sword into one of the gashes Katya had left in the armor's torso. "There we go!" he shouted to his friends. "That's some damage!"

"It gets better, Nekishe!" Myau called. "Get ready, Lutz! Gi Tandle!"

"Gi Heal!"

"Collabo Magic... THUNDER STORM!"

A massive arc of electricity formed between Myau and Lutz, and the two guided it into the weakened spot in the armor. Doctor Mad was heard grunting in agony, as his armor's protection had finally been breached.

"Myau. Lutz," Katya told the group. "I have an idea. If we can overcharge his armor, I think we can destroy it."

"You're probably right," Tairon told her. "How's it gonna happen, though?"

"Thunder magic. Lots of it, right through the damaged area into the armor's drive capacitor." Katya looked to the armor, and its convulsing occupant, realizing that she would be bearing the full brunt of the armor's attacks when the doctor recovered. "I'll guide it in."

"But... but you'll die!" Nekishe realized. "You'll be right on top of the explosion-"

"I know. Doctor Mad turned me into this," Katya explained. "A tool of war. I have a request: When you return to Camineet, tell the woman who saved me to remove the weapon aspects from the microt programming. Turn Doctor Mad's weapon into something that can save lives."

"....." The rest of the group remained silent as they considered Katya's plea. Finally, Lutz nodded, saying, "I'll tell Rainy."

"Thank you. I think Lord LaShiec has you four all wrong. You don't seem so bad..." A tear rolled down the cyborg's cheek, and she turned away from the four. "Let's go."

Nekishe reluctantly raised a yellow-glowing crystal. "Tandle!" he screamed, not particularly wanting to go through with this plan.

Lutz followed through with an equally reticent "Gi Tandle!" The two electrical energies formed together, and Katya absorbed the mass into her body. Trying to restrain the power surging through her, she ran up to the powered armor, tears running freely.

"This is it," she said, looking Doctor Mad in the eyes. "You turned me into a machine of war... let me show you what war is. It's hell, Doctor. Prepare yourself..."

"Wait, Katya... I can explain everything! (^_^;"

"Executing my final program... Tsu.exec. Combining..." Both of Katya's claws surged with electrical energy, augmented by the twin Tandle spells. "Collabo Program... Triple Threat active. As you're fond of saying... smell ya later!"

Then she jammed her claws into the exposed drive motivator. Electricity coursed through the powered armor, Katya, and the doctor, as the group stood by, helpless to do anything to save Katya.

"Oh, crapola! Crap! CRAP!" Doctor Mad screamed, as he frantically searched his console. "Why didn't I make this out of some other metal besides steel!? Why didn't I put an eject button in this chair?! Damn! Damn!"

Glancing out the windscreen, he saw Katya, both hands firmly in the drive. She gave him a smile, her red lips curving upwards as if to say, "You made me live as Prototype Zero-One, but I'm dying as Katya Merchova."

Angrily, Doctor Mad did what he thought was the most rational action he could. Giving Katya the middle finger on both hands, he screamed. "Katya! Algo! I have this to say: Fu-"

He never got a chance to finish his obscenity, as Project Frag Algo exploded into a massive fireball, sending debris everywhere. Katya was catapulted from the explosion, ribbons of blood pouring through the air as she tumbled to a halt at Tairon and Lutz's feet. Pieces of what used to be Doctor Mad spattered everywhere: On the floor, the walls, the crumbled ceiling. Glancing up, Katya asked, "How... did I... do?"

"You did great, Katya," Tairon replied.

"Thank... you," was the weak response. "Go... go on... kill LaSh...iec for me..."

"Katya..."

Picking herself up, she looked at Myau and said, "Tell that green-haired... kid you know... he's not a bad kisser... at all..."

And then, with a sigh and a smile, Katya collapsed, dying peacefully. Lutz knelt down and closer her eyes, then told the group, "Let's go."

"This is for Katya now, isn't it?" Myau asked as they moved on. "Alisa's dad, Nero, Alisa, everyone in Eppi, and now Katya... how many more people is LaShiec gonna kill or corrupt before we're through with him?

"She's the last one," Lutz said. "Katya's the last victim. I swear it."

In silence, the four warriors moved through the castle, finally approaching the doors to LaShiec's throne room. Raising a hand, Tairon passed out bottles of Trifluid to Lutz and Myau, who drank thirstily. Once they finished the strange brew, they noticed that some of their magical essence had been restored.

"I've got more packed away," Tairon whispered. "Lutz, get that crystal ready. If Damoa and that old geezer Tajima are right, we're gonna need it."

"Of course." Once he took out the Rykrosian crystal, Lutz opened the door to the throne room, and the four marched in.

Inside the throne room, the four were greeted by the sight of LaShiec, embracing Alisa, their lips in a warm kiss. As if they could sense their visitors, the two pulled away, then stared down the four. LaShiec's scepter materialized in his hand, and Alisa drew her tainted Laconia blade.

"Ah, you have arrived," LaShiec said. "Myau, Lutz, Tairon... and who the hell are you?"

"Hmph. I know him, all too well," Alisa told her husband, raising her nose at Nekishe. "Nekishe Eushys. A friend of my brother's."

"That's right. LaShiec, it's over," Nekishe said. "You've finally messed with the wrong people."

"I don't know what you've done to Alisa, but I assure you," Lutz added, readying his Psycho Wand, "We'll stop it."

"You'll... hehe... you'll 'stop it'?" Alisa asked, obviously amused. "What exactly are you going to stop? You think he's brainwashed me?"

"Alisa, LaShiec's just using you," Tairon replied. "We don't want to fight you- our bone here's with LaShiec."

"That's Lord LaShiec to you, worm!" Alisa's eyes turned red as she continued, "The three of you left me here to die. You abandoned me."

"We had to regroup, Alisa!" Myau told her. "We couldn't rescue you the way we were!"

"There's that word again. 'Rescue.' Amusing, isn't it, Reipard, darling?"

LaShiec laughed out loud, smirking at the Musk Cat. "It is. They think you're actually in trouble, Alisa."

"How cute! Let me tell you this," Alisa told the four. "Reipard showed me everything- you left me here without a care for my well-being. You, Lutz, thought my spellcasting was inferior. And you, Tairon, thought me weak. And Myau, you thought me slow. As for Nekishe, he thought me naive. What you thought of me doesn't matter anymore."

"Alisa..." Nekishe started to say.

"Silence! The four of you tossed me away like rotting garbage, and now you're here to 'rescue' me. From what? Living life with money? Hot food? Freedom?" Alisa laughed derisively, then continued, "You think I want to go back to what I had? Reipard rescued me from all that, and all I had to do was say one word: 'Yes.' I remembered how you all deceived me, and I looked Reipard in the eyes. I told him, 'Yes. I'll be your queen, Reipard. Dearly.'" Then Alisa chuckled, adding, "He's given me such a luxurious life, he's taught me how to properly use a sword, given me the most powerful magic in Algo, and when he was done... he crowned me his queen."

"Alisa, you've been brainwashed," Lutz interrupted. "We can help you. Please."

"You think you can 'help' her?" LaShiec asked. "Granted, your particular brand of 'help' is exactly what led her to me in the first place."

"Why should I believe anything the four of you have to say?" Alisa demanded. "You've done nothing but lie to me for the past seventeen years. You thought me inferior; now, let me show you how 'inferior' I am!"

"Alisa, please!" Nekishe pleaded. "You're not thinking clearly-"

"I'm thinking perfectly clearly, Eushys! Don't blame me because I saw through your pack of lies!"

"And now, I offer you a choice," LaShiec added. "Leave now, the four of you, and we'll never speak of this again. Otherwise, well..." He glanced over to Alisa, whose eyes had become an even darker red over the last thirty seconds. "Let's just say we can't guarantee your safety."

"We're here for Alisa," Tairon said, swapping his rifle for his Laconia axe. "We're not leaving here without her."

"What you've done since our last visit was especially atrocious. Katya shall be avenged," Lutz added.

"Yeah! We're gonna whomp your *, LaShiec!" Myau also chimed in.

"This is for Alisa and everyone else you've ruined, LaShiec!"

LaShiec rolled his eyes, and Alisa grinned maliciously. "Why do they always have to do this, Alisa, honey?" LaShiec asked.

"They are but mere peons, my dear Reipard. Who can comprehend how their simple minds work?"

Raising his scepter, LaShiec said, his voice grim, "Looks like we'll have to do this the hard way."

"And no other way. Just as I love it," Alisa added, readying her sword. Her shield suddenly materialized on her left arm, its formerly blue-green Laconia now stained red, decorated with LaShiec's black family heraldry.

Raising his staff, LaShiec screamed, "Prepare to face the power of Dark Force's chosen ones! Another Gate!"

And Alisa raised her hand skywards, her eyes blood red. "Repent, sinners, for all you have wrought upon Algo! Megid!"

Lutz was not scared by the fact that Alisa knew Megid, a spell long-sealed by Espers since the Age of Myths. Nor was he fazed by LaShiec's magic, propagated unto him by his worship of Dark Force.

He was absolutely terrified, as were his companions, by the words that came forth from LaShiec and Alisa's mouths next.

"Collabo Magic... AETERNAL ZERO!"

End of Part Fifteen

Now reunited with Alisa, can Tairon, Lutz, Nekishe, and Myau defeat LaShiec and restore peace and serenity to the Algo Star System? Can Alisa reclaim the Light for a joyful reunion with her friends and loved ones? Or will she embrace the Darkness, transforming into LaShiec's queen for all eternity? Will Alisa survive? Will Alisa die? How will everything end for the First Protectors of Algo?
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